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6 tips for a successful international move
These are promising times for people on the move. Given the combined influence of globalisation, new technology and more affordable transportation, business enterprises are expanding their footprint far and wide. For today’s talent, a pleasing by-product is the opportunity of global mobility. Some companies include this as a pillar of their talent development programmes and business strategies, and really it is a win-win, helping corporates to attract talent, enhance corporate culture, and facilitate the transfer of expertise and knowledge-sharing between colleagues from different countries and cultures.
Global mobility can be a great way to expand your global vision, improve working experience and skillsets, gain language immersion and better understand the global operations and diversified corporate cultures of your company. In many cases the learning is steep as those transferred to outer offices are often afforded opportunities to lead projects that may not have been in play previously. Likewise, given appropriate checks and balances the opportunity to be away from leaders and mentors can also be a great opportunity to make the decisions, take a few chances, make the odd mistake and ultimately be highly challenged and see significant development.
Having been in Asia for 5 years now, I have been contacted quite a lot over the years from professionals that are eager to relocate to the region, so from my perspective the interest in having an international career, in Asia for sure, is absolutely there with professionals in other markets.
Keen to be one of those on the move? There are a few ways that you can do this, one is to work for a company that can facilitate global mobility and another is to move to a new company in a new country. I have been fortunate enough to work for a company that supports global mobility and from my experience of moving from PageGroup Australia to PageGroup Hong Kong, and then to PageGroup Taiwan, and from working with international clients for quite some time now, I have put together some of my insights with respect to things to consider.
Some of my points with respect to making an international move go for both internal global mobility (international transfer) and for making an international move to a new company but let’s start with the ‘easiest’ way to move, and that is an international transfer.
Work for a company that facilitates global mobility
Working for an international company that can facilitate and encourages global mobility is a great way to have an international career. One of the reasons I joined PageGroup was because it’s an international company which supports employees seeking international careers. This all said, you need to be prepared to put the time in, achieve at a high level and demonstrate your value to the company as it is a significant investment from any company to relocate people internationally. Great companies will invest in people and support their ambitions if they can as it is mutually beneficial and facilitates international knowledge sharing and frankly, this keeps talent within the business that would otherwise leave for a new company to satisfy their ambitions. I stayed in Australia for six and a half years before moving to Hong Kong, which for me was quite an easy move as I had put the time in and demonstrated my value to the business, so PageGroup was very happy to support my international move. Nearly three years after relocating to Hong Kong I was offered a new opportunity within the company and moved to Taiwan. Would this have happened in a small boutique firm? It certainly seems less likely.
For those that don’t work for a company that can facilitate an international move, there are few things that I suggest you think about to help you make this move happen.
Skillsets in high demand
If you are interested in moving to a new country, in order to increase the likelihood of finding a good role you need to look for countries where you have a skillset that is in high demand. Whether it’s proven leadership abilities in executive positions, or a sought-after technical skills, this will help you find a good role and once you arrive quickly add value. Without a marketable edge, ie. expertise that is not easily found locally, you may find it difficult to find a role and stand out in an unfamiliar market, especially in the face of local competition.
You also need to consider the need for language skills to operate in the market you are moving to. This doesn’t mean that without the relevant language abilities everything is impossible, but language proficiency in the local business language can be highly advantageous to securing a role and delivering outcomes in the role depending on the job. My observation is that talent in Taiwan whom have strong technical and communication skills, particularly in English, tend to land more senior roles with higher salaries. They also end up with a better chance of moving internationally with a big company. My advice? If your language skills aren’t going to give you a marketable advantage, seek out opportunities in markets very short of your technical skills and / or seek training now to work on the language skills. The ultimate combination is when you have both the technical skills in short demand as well as the language skills!
Be prepared to be flexible
You also need to consider what is really important to you in your career and in your life. I speak to many people that are interested in moving internationally but they are often not flexible enough to do so. A lot of people that contact me about moving to Taiwan for example are looking to do this on big expatriate packages but the market here would rarely provide this, unless they are specifically targeting talent outside of Taiwan or are moving expertise in from within their company from another market. Taking this into consideration, if Taiwan was a market that you were very interested in you would likely need to be quite flexible on these expectations. There are of course exceptions, in particular for very skill short parts of the market where supply is not meeting demand, and if you can get these benefits it is in your best interest to do so but you may need to be flexible as these are not guaranteed and if you are inflexible here you may lose out on opportunities. The Taiwan market is quite mature and developed, as is the local talent pool in most areas.
There are also a number of other markets around the world and in the region where expatriate talent is in more demand and getting expatriate packages is still common, but these tend to be the less mature and developing economies, however they are not typically considered as top tier locations for expatriates to live. This said, this could be a great way to have an international career as if you are prepared to go to more developing economies you could secure an international move to that big job that you have been looking for indeed learn a lot!
Embrace cultural differences
Whether you are being moved internationally with your company or are moving to a new company and moving internationally, it is extremely important to be open-minded and adaptive to cultural barriers, with an easy attitude to change, and a respect for local cultures and working styles. Moving to a country that you have never lived in and know little about can be challenging. Your experience counts for a great deal but in my experience you usually can’t do you job in exact same way that you did it in another country. Adapting fast becomes a priority and observing the ways that local colleagues do things is key. If you have better ways, finding ways to share it without causing offense becomes an art-form. Always listen and observe first, and then work out what's going to work best for this new situation. If you do this you can bring in some fantastic innovative improvements which will be a win for your new team as well as yourself.
You should try to quickly gain an understanding of cultural differences too. For example, in Hong Kong, Taiwan and other regions in Greater China, some candidates who decide to change jobs need to seek buy-in from family members before changing jobs. In a Western context, this might seem odd but I have found it important to gain empathy fast, and to accept and respect people’s cultural sensitivities which are obviously no less valid than my own.
Avoid the stereotypes
Before I moved to Taiwan, some people described the perception of the Taiwan working culture as less ambitious, less dynamic and slower-paced. In hindsight, this was clearly misconceived and superficial. Having lived and worked in Taiwan for over 2 years now I have observed that Taiwanese people are very driven to progress and keen to develop their careers. While many may be less outwardly aggressive, I have discovered a rich desire from people to learn, develop and challenge themselves, and I have had the privilege to work alongside a wonderfully talented and driven Taiwanese team. Many Taiwanese people are milder and very polite, with great manners, and they try to do things in a softer way at times but the intention and drive is absolutely there. Ultimately, those who can’t abandon their pre-conceptions will miss out on the finer points and fail to build quality relationships.
Overall, if you are flexible and sensitive to the differences you find, and mindful that in many ways we are usually more similar than different, you will find you can overcome pretty much any barrier or problem. Spend some time getting to know local people, besides colleagues, and help them to understand the strange and amusing side of your own culture. For those who blend well and avoid the expat clichés along the way, you can gain a far richer understanding of what makes your host country tick, and build lasting relationships along the way. Do that, and you’ll find the experience proves beneficial to you as both a professional and a person alike.
Be sure to talk to us at Michael Page about making your own mobility adventure a reality.